AFRICA/THE GREAT LAKES REGION - Democratic Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Rev. Ferdinando Colombo, vice president of VIS reports on progress of development programme launched three years ago by this Salesian volunteer aid agency

Monday, 16 February 2004

Rome (Fides Service)- The Italian development agency VIS (Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo), sponsored by the Salesian Fathers has various programmes in the countries of the Great Lakes region of Africa, Democratic Congo Rwanda, Burundi. Rev Ferdinando Colombo, VIS vice president, just back from a visit to the region, reported to Fides about the situation. “VIS is present in each of the three countries with programmes of education and assistance for youth. In Burundi in one of the poorest districts of the capital Buterere, VIS has finished building a training complex for abandoned youth. We already have 50 young boys and girls, but the number will increase in September when courses in carpentry, mechanics, computer techniques and secretarial courses are added to the sewing classes already opened. The programme was funded with the help of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, the European Union and the Italian Foreign Ministry. Burundi is living a complex stage of history. The main rebel group Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), has signed an agreement with the government but the other group Force for National Liberation (FNL), has only just begin talks with the government. Unfortunately the situation is still not settled. Every night while in Bujumbura I heard explosions and shooting. The law is in the hands stronger, those who can take up arms. But let’s hope that the country will soon reach lasting peace .
“In Rwanda, Salesian celebrations for 50 years of activity in the country were attended by grateful crowds. Special guests included the Bishops of Rwanda and the President Paul Kagame. The parade of former Salesian school pupils included bishops, ministers and mayors. President Kagame said he was truly impressed by the Salesians’ contribution to development in his country. This prompted us to ask him to lift residence taxes on foreign teachers (200 dollars every 3 months) and customs tax on imported school materials. The President promised he would look into the matter.
“My last visit in the region was to Goma, southern Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC) on the border with Rwanda, where we have a professional training centre and a home for 500 children. We also supply food, clothing and schooling to another 1,000 children taken in by families in the area. The children are aged between 4-3 months to 18 years. Our centre is the only one of its kind within an area of 200 km and so all abandoned children are sent to us. With the help of the International Red Cross we try to contact the families and reunite the children with them. Goma is still recovering from the tragic eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in January 2002 when 300,000 people were made homeless. Thank goodness the Salesian compound was not affected by the flow of lava and the Fathers were able to guarantee assistance for earthquake victims. VIS has helped rebuild about 40 new homes”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 16/2/2004, lines 45 words 583)